Authors: Bill Pronzini
Finally I pointed myself toward home. I was in no condition or frame of mind to see anybody else tonight, including Doc Petersen. If my head needed Doc's attention, it could wait until tomorrow.
On the way I kept thinking about that prowler. He could have run away once he realized he had been spotted, but instead he had chosen to attack. Dangerous, whoever he was. The kind who was capable of killing a man.
Was he also capable of hanging a man after knocking him on the head? I wondered. Would he maybe have tried to hang
if Pike and Badger had not showed up when they did?
MY HEAD STILL PAINED ME IN THE MORNING. THERE WAS a lump the size of a pigeon's egg over the left ear and a welt on my neck, and no way to hide either one. So I had to endure Ivy's questions along with a lecture about the dangers of my job and a breakfast I wanted no part of—all because I was unable to get out of the house before she saw me. She wanted to know if I was going to church and I said yes, but I had no intention of doing so, not the way I felt today.
I had to endure questions from Doc Petersen, too, when I went to his office to have him look at my injuries. My vision was a smidge cockeyed and I was worried about that. I had a mild concussion, he said. He applied a bandage, gave me some powders for the pain, and charged me five dollars—about three too much, since he knew the town council would grudgingly reimburse me.
I was in a prickly mood when I walked into the constable's office and found Boze making a pot of coffee. He had a case of the sniffles this morning, and when he was suffering that way it was his unsanitary habit to puff out his lower lip and blow the drip off the end of his nose, instead of wiping it away with a handkerchief. Sprayed it all over the place like dandelion fluff. A wonder he didn't infect half the town.
I glared at him. "Why in hell aren't you at Far West?"
"It's Sunday, remember?"
"Then why aren't you in church?"
"I was. Early services. Didn't
"Never mind that. What're you doing here?"
"Figured it was where I'd find you—Considerin'.
I just walked in a couple of minutes ago."
"Considering what? And don't ask any questions about my head."
"That's what I mean. I already know what happened last night."
"The hell you do. How?"
"It's all over town."
"That confounded Jacob Pike! I should've told him to keep his lip buttoned."
"Nothing to be ashamed of, takin' on a prowler."
"Who says I'm ashamed?"
"Hey, I'm on your side. No need to get proddy."
"I'm not proddy. Blow your nose, why don't you? I purely hate it when you blow snot all over the place."
He sighed, made honking noises into his handkerchief, and then rubbed his bald spot and said, "You want to grump at me some more or you want to hear what I got to tell you?''
Some of the growl went out of me. No sense in taking my mood out on Boze; he was not the reason I was feeding on gall and wormwood this morning. I said, "Don't mind me— I'm not fit company today. But if what you've got to tell me is bad news, maybe you'd better sugarcoat it some."
"It ain't exactly bad," he said, "but it ain't good either. I ran into Elmer Davies a while ago. He had the answer to your Tucson wire. I told him to give it to me and he did; I didn't expect you'd mind."
"I don't. You read it?"
"Better read it yourself,
He fished a yellow fold of paper out of his shirt pocket, spread it open, and handed it to me. It said:
JEREMY BODEEN UNKNOWN TO US BUT EMMETT BODEEN
TROUBLEMAKER AND PROBABLY THIEF STOP UNDERSIGNED
ARRESTED HIM TWICE LAST YEAR SUSPICION BURGLARY
SUSPICION HORSE STEALING STOP BOTH CHARGES DROPPED
INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE STOP SUGGEST YOU WATCH HIM
CAREFULLY STOP FURTHER DETAILS ON REQUEST
When I looked up from the paper, Boze said, "Interestin' ", ain't it? Particularly the suspicion of horse stealin' part."
"Reckon we ought to have a talk with Mr. Emmett Bodeen?"
"I damned well do. And right now. The coffee can wait."
"You sound proddy again."
I touched the bandage over my ear. "I feel proddy again," I said. "Stir your stumps."
We got our Sears, Roebuck bicycles and pedaled across the Basin Drawbridge to Magruder's Lodging House, a ram-shackle building that catered to rivermen and transients and the lower class of drummer. Emmett Bodeen was not there. Magruder, fatter and sassier than ever, said that Bodeen had left about an hour before and that he had no idea where we could find him. "I got better things to do than keep track of my clientele," he said.
"Clientele," Boze said when we were outside again. "You'd think he was runnin' the Palace Hotel in San Francisco."
"Palace Hotel wouldn't let Magruder in the front door."
We went back to Main and down to the livery barn. Jeremy Bodeen's roan horse was there and so was Morton Brandeis; he hadn't seen Bodeen since yesterday, he said. Likely, then, Mr. Bodeen was still somewhere in town.
It took us half an hour to locate him—in the Sonoma Pool Emporium, playing against himself in a game of Rotation at a rear table. As early as it was of a Sunday morning, he was the only customer. He saw us come in but it didn't stop him from running off a string of four balls, the last one with a nifty double-bank. Hustler's shot, I thought. Add pool shark to his list of dubious pursuits.
He stood looking at us, working chalk over the tip of his cue. Except for his trousers, which were a dirty twill, he was dressed as he had been on Friday. "Don't suppose you're here to tell me you found out who murdered my brother," he said.
"No. Not yet."
"Not ever, I'll wager."
''Where were you between ten and eleven last night?"
That made him frown. ''What business is it of yours where I was?"
"Answer my question here or answer it in a cell. Your choice, Mister."
"You talk hard for a hick-town constable."
"I can back it up, too. Where were you between ten and eleven last night?"
"In my room, asleep."
"What time did you go up?"
"Ten or so."
"Anybody see you?"
"Not that I saw back. What happened last night?"
"Prowler at the livery barn."
"That so. Appears you might have tangled with him."
"Well, it wasn't me," Bodeen said. "Why would I want to prowl around a livery barn?"
''After a horse, maybe.''
"I got a horse. My brother's."
"Not much, that roan," Boze said. "Could be you wanted a better animal. Understand you got an eye for horseflesh."
"Racehorses, not saddle nags."
"I wasn't talkin' about racehorses."
"Then what in hell were you talking about?"
"Horse stealin'," Boze said. "Same crime you were arrested for once in Tucson, Arizona."
"Oh, so you found out about that." Bodeen did not seem much perturbed by the fact. "Well, I didn't have nothing to do with stealing that rancher's horse. The charges against me were dropped. You find that out, too?"
"Insufficient evidence," I said. "Same result as when Sheriff Nye arrested you on burglary charges."
"By Christ! Can I help it if Nye had it in for me? You going to hold two false arrests against me?"
"Not if that's all they were. How many other times have you been arrested?"
"Man's past follows him wherever he goes," I said. "If you
in trouble with the law anywhere other than Tucson, we'll find it out. Be best if you told us about it right now."
"Nothing to tell. No other arrests, no convictions, no jail time. Satisfied?"
"For now. On that score."
"You still harping on last night?" Bodeen said. "How many times I have to tell you? I turned in early and I was asleep by eleven."
"Long day, was it?"
"How did you spend it?"
"My business, constable."
"Depends on what you were doing."
"Don't you worry, I didn't break any laws."
"Broke a couple two nights ago," I said.
"At Swede's Beer Hall. Got into a fight, smashed some glassware—"
"I paid for the glassware."
"Didn't pay for disturbing the peace."
"It wasn't my fault."
"You started the fight, didn't you?"
"No, I didn't."
"Threw the first punch, so I heard."
"Man said some things I didn't like."
"Some roustabout. Pig-drunk."
"But you weren't drunk."
"No. Hell, no."
"The way it was told me," I said, "the reason for the fight was you asking too many questions and making remarks against our town. Provoking trouble."
Bodeen had begun to heat up some. That ruddiness was in his cheeks, that fire-burning-on-ice look had come into his eyes. He kept sliding his hands back and forth along the pool cue he was holding, the way a man might do with a rifle he was looking to fire.
"I got a right to ask questions," he said. "It was my brother that was killed in this goddamn town of yours. My
"I told you before, you leave that to me. And you keep the peace. Any more trouble, any whisper of it, and you'll find yourself in jail or on your way someplace else."
"Shit," he said, soft and tight.
"I won't tolerate foul language, either. You understand?"
His mouth ridged up white at the corners and his eyes were like live coals.
"Well, Mr. Bodeen?"
"I understand." He said the words as if they had the taste of camphor.
I nodded, and Boze and I put our backs to him and walked out into the sunlight.
Boze sniffed, blew drip to the wind, and said, "Maybe you should of sent him packin' right here and now."
"No real cause."
"You need one?"
"To avoid trouble, I do."
"Well, he'll bear close watchin', I say."
"So do I."
We started back down Main. A block ahead of us, a huge canvas-covered wagon was jouncing along through the ruts. "Ain't that Gus Peppermill's wagon?" Boze asked.
"Looks like it."
"Wonder what he's doin' back in town? He was just here last week."
I said I couldn't guess, and forgot about Gus Peppermill until an hour later, when one of the local boys found me at home, trimming some bushes at Ivy's nagging request, and handed me a note. It was from Gus, and it said he was down at his usual spot and wanted to see me as soon as I could make it.
The place where he always camped when he was in Tule Bend was in a clump of willows on the creekbank, not far from the bluff on which Hannah lived. When I got there his wagon was drawn up parallel to the road, his two big shaggy dapple-grays still in harness. You could read the bright blue lettering on the wagon's side a block away.
"THE FIXIT MAN"
TOOLS AND APPLIANCES REPAIRED
BUILDINGS PAINTED, ROOFS RESTORED
• FURNITURE MADE TO ORDER • GRINDING,
SHARPENING, BUFFING, SANDING, SCOURING,
REFINISHING • NO TASK TOO SMALL OR TOO
DIFFICULT • FINE QUALITY WORK AT CHEAP PRICES
There was no sign of Gus, but as I approached I could hear him banging on something inside the wagon. He had hundreds of tools in there, some of which—to hear him tell it, and to see them you could believe it—that he had invented himself. He had been driving that wagon of his around the county for as long as I could recall, doing work that lived up to his advertising. He was something of a character and the kids loved him; whenever he came to town—usually for a day or two once a month, unless he had a big job to contend with—there were a flock of them hanging around. Not today, though. If any youngsters had seen his wagon and come pestering, he must have chased them off. Which meant that he was not planning to stay long, this time.
I went up to the rear and called out his name, and pretty soon he yanked the flap aside and put his head out. Most of it was hair and beard, gray-white and shaggy like his horses; he was well up in his sixties. But his eyes were bright and his smile was friendly, his massive body was fit, and he could still do the work of a man half his age.
"Got my note, did you?" he said.
"I did. What's on your mind, Gus?"
"I'm a good citizen, I am. I come all the way over from Glen Ellen to do my-duty."
"What duty is that?"
"Soon as I heard about the man got himself hanged here," Gus said, "I set out. Luke Kearney told me. He come into Glen Ellen yesterday to visit his daughter."
"You saying you know something about the killing, Gus?"
"No. But Luke Kearney said you were looking for anybody seen that man, the one who was hanged. Well, I seen him."